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Published: September 6th 2008
Thursday 21st August. My journal continues
- A tale of two lighters.
They get you in the end, they always do.
I’m approaching British security at Heathrow and find a lighter in my pouch. I quickly unzip my case and put it inside the case, believing that I should not carry it in the plane but not wanting to throw it away because I might want to light a cigar at the other end of my arduous travels. However once through x-ray my case is put to one side for further securitization and I have to wait. I’m done for, they will find it now! I wait patiently, trying to look cool, not like a terrorist! The man with who is doing the checks knows his job and is thoroughly inspecting the case of a young couple from South America. He has a device for sniffing chemicals and is checking everything, which seem to be mainly books and papers. His zealous efforts are rewarded by finding a miniature screwdriver which he duly confiscates but he seems not satisfied and the search continues, and I am kept waiting even longer. The couple looked bemused at the security man’s efforts. “I’m
only doing my job” he would say if challenged. Of course he finds nothing further but he enjoys his job. Next is a black woman with a young child who has a lot of liquid toiletries in her case and also two drinks bottles with teats, for her child. Now she is definitely under suspicion. The child is asked to drink from both bottles but the mother does it for the little boy. Surely anything that looks like orange juice cannot be used to make bombs but they will take no chances, especially this security man. I am frustrated at the delay and am regretting not chucking the lighter away but fortunately have plenty of time. It seems the man is going to take a lot of time with this woman and calls a colleague to look at my case. The young security woman asks me to go with her and takes my case. Thoughts spring to mind of being taken to a side room where I will be thoroughly searched as if under suspicion and all for the sake of a damn cheap lighter. However, she only takes me to another table where she physically checks my case. What
she finds though is not my lighter but a can of deodorant spray. Apparently I should have had it checked before I entered security and had put it in a plastic bag. So this was all the waiting was for, a can of deodorant spray. Incidentally, did I mention before but you can’t buy deodorant here. I have another four cans in my other case, hopefully to last me until my next trip home. Crystal assures me that Chinese people do not tend to smell like westerners and so do not need to use deodorant but I know for sure that a few I have encountered do!
You know, the enemy has won the battle when they get you paranoid and this is a wonderful example of paranoia at our airport check-ins. What I don’t understand about all this fuss about liquids is that they seem to have a device to sniff out substances which might make bombs and yet it cannot tell that orange juice or water for that fact are safe!
The flight is a good one for me because I manage to sleep for about five hours on and off during the twelve hour flight.
I had bought an inflatable neck cushion and that seemed to help a great deal. It seems that when I try to sleep without one on the plane, my head falls forward and I immediately wake up. On previous flights I have hardly slept at all. All except for the previous one going to England, when through total lack of sleep the night before and some alcohol inducement on the plane, slept soundly for about six hours on my way to blighty. The reason for my complete lack of sleep the night previous was due to a raging backache with back spasms, and thirty degrees of heat and humidity in the night, whilst staying at Crystal’s uncle’s flat in Shanghai. There was also one other thing to aid my sleep on the plane. It was a British Airways flight and the seats have handy little wings that rotate out and support your head; such a thoughtful device but not so on China Eastern flights which I was now returning to China on. Anyway, although back on Chinese soil I still had another flight to Chonqing and a wait of four hours.
Time goes quickly and soon I am checking
Overlooking the city
The temple is a peaceful place above the hubbub of the city.
in my large case once again but I very surprised when the girl at check-in indicates I should go to a side room and tells me I should collect my check-in ticket thereafter. I’ve never had this before. In the side room is a Chinese security lady waiting with my suitcase; it needs to be checked. I have my smaller one in tow but this is not in question. I open the large case and the woman, using a similar electronic sniffing device to that used by U.K. security begins her search and it’s not long before she finds something suspicious - another lighter! It is one of a batch of novelty lighters I had purchased in China, with intent on selling them at the Viking show I attended. However, I had decided not to bring a dozen lighters for fear of them exploding accidentally in the luggage hold. In the event, I only brought this one and now it was seized. She also found my four cans of deodorant spray and asked me what they were and I did a mock demonstration for her, and I was permitted to keep them. I repack my case, hand over my passport
for checking once again and return to check-in to get my passport. But! By the time I get there, a matter of less than fifty metres, I cannot find my passport. I am now totally flustered and search my hip pouch and every pocket I possess before returning to the security woman but she is sure she gave it back to me and I am too. Did I put it in my suitcase, she asks in broken English? Oh my God! Surely not, it’s on its way to the plane by now？ Searching every pocket again, I am in mild panic. I leave her and walk outside desperately scanning the floor. During that time the consequences of losing my passport flash into my mind but there on the shiny black marble flooring, ten metres from check-in is my passport. I breath a big sigh of relief, put safely away my passport in a zippered pocket and quickly get my check-in voucher. Now on to the second level of security！
I still have plenty of time and am not concerned about the previous delay. At security I take off everything required and place it on the trays to go through
From the pogoda
Pity about the near constant mist
yet another ex-ray. At the other side I submit to the usual body search, done by a woman and given the all clear but am again questioned when I come to get my small case and belongings. Do I have a lighter in my hip pouch, I am asked? I mutter something pathetic and open it. The old blue disposable lighter I had borrowed from my son’s to light my cigar and had not returned (sorry Kevin) was the offending item and the one I taken undetected through British security but it is mine or my son’s no more. I bet he will grumble when he can’t find it to light the gas fire this winter!
Saturday 23rd August
I had flown from Shanghai to Chonqing, which is a very large city with a population about the size of England! Now the last leg of the journey back to Zunyi. Chonqing is known for being hot. For me however, Zunyi gets hot but I am frequently told Chonqing gets hotter. So I am non too impressed when I find we can’t get a taxi from directly outside our hotel and have to drag my heavy case, Crystal pulls
the smaller one, to find a cab. So up hill we lug the cases to the busy main street, cross it and hail one of the many gold and white taxis. Crystal then has a short discussion with the driver and walks away. She tells me the driver will not take us. The bus station is in the wrong direction and she points in the opposite direction to which all the traffic is flowing. We hail another but again he won’t take us. Crystal then tells me he won’t take us because it is too close. You can imagine I am not best pleased with this news. We try another taxi but again no joy. There is nothing for it but to walk. So back we cross the busy road and on in the general direction of the bus station, my suitcase weighing heavier than every before and the temperature and the humidity overpowering. What is more, I have never come across such uneven or dirtier streets anywhere in China. The place seems like a giant building site and it is because all around, new buildings are taking being constructed. Crystal stops to ask directions and gets a cursory point
to go on the same way we are going, so on we go. She stops again to ask and again a cursory gesture in reply. I keep swapping hands to relieve my arms of the weight of the case. I curse this overheated landscape. Why would so many people want to live in 21st century Dantes Inferno? Crystal looks around, a confused look on her face. What might be a short distance for a taxi, is one hell of a way when dragging a 25kg suitcase in 35c of heat and humidity. Especially for a pasty Englishman. She beckons me to wait and goes off in search of direction. I am glad of the rest in feeble shade. Soon she returns but little the wiser. Crystal complains how unhelpful people are and so on we go in the vague direction she has been told. We come to a place where coaches are parked. Hopefully we have arrived but no. Off she goes again in search of the illusive bus station.
I had noticed yesterday, a number of men with small bamboo poles and a piece of rope. They were peasant worker types; dark skin, poor clothing, slight but strong
stature; one of them sleeping on the ground and I had wondered why they would walk around with bamboo poles and rope, or indeed sleep with them. Today I was to find out. They are of course porters/carriers and while I am sheltering in the shade eating a peach, am approached by one. His skin is dark and heavily lined and is five feet nothing but build like a tree. He jabbers on at me, wanting to take my case but Crystal has disappeared and I don’t know which way to go. I decline his offer with much regret. When he has gone and out of sight, Crystal reappears telling me the bus stop is not too far away now and we should go on. However, I am past going on and need a porter. I’m still getting over the journey and suffering with the heat. Close by, a man is doing something with an old three legged desk and she goes to him. He too is dark skinned, wiry and small, and it is isn’t long before he is easily lifting my case onto his head to be my porter. The bus stop isn’t far but I am glad
of the assistance and the guy has earned 5yuan.
Crystal gets our tickets; we have our cases scanned through ex-ray but no lighters this time. Then to get our bus but not before hiking our cases up a flight of stairs, across a bridge and down a flight of stairs to get to the concourse, and then we wait and wait and wait. There has been an accident on the road the bus is delayed!
An hour later we are on the air conditioned bus and heading out of Chonqing - thank god!
If the city felt like hell, then the countryside we were to pass could feel like heaven. I wanted to sleep but I also wanted to gaze out at the lush green ragged mountains and haphazard fields of rice and vegetables that lined out journey. For nearly three hours our new highway traversed easily between pointed conical mountains and if we were not traveling over a bridge over some ravine, we were traveling through some long dark tunnel under some obstinate mountain stretch. The sky was blue and the sun bright. Everywhere among these rich mountains, man had been at work, carving flat fields
Students get ready
School Art Festival April 08
and pastures to grow crops. Only the steepest slopes refused his efforts. The land was a wholesome crazy patchwork of brown earth, green crops and steely water filled rice paddies. One has to admire the Chinese peasant as to how they have carved the land to grow crops, even on the most difficult of terrain. Of course it doesn’t make for natural landscape but there is still a beauty to the land despite man’s intervention, which is more than can be said for Chonqing.
Thursday 28th August.
08.10. First day back at school and first class of the day. In the large exercise area/basket ball courts, Senior One are assembled in orderly ranks. In their presence were uniformed soldiers blowing whistles and giving orders. The students were taking part in military training. They will be marching and doing drill all day and every day this week. It is their introduction to Middle School life and maybe a shock to their system. Military training and discipline is still considered to be an important aspect of life here. Crystal had told me that when she started her teacher training college, she and the students had to do
Crystal gets the treatment
forty days of training at a military camp. She said she didn’t like it but accepted it as a good thing. This is the positive attitude taken by people here to things that might be difficult but beneficial. She said it made her a lot fitter and she also lost weight which she felt was a good thing, however if you saw her would think she never needed too. And from what I noticed during my recent trip back home, would be of great value to a lot of young people in the U.K. It struck me very much how many people at home are greatly overweight and even obese. It is something you don’t notice here in China.
Friday 29th August
Sleeping at the school apartment last night and was awoken by the very loud crying of a child; it went on and on but eventually stopped. Was awoken again by same distressed crying. I was desperate for sleep but would not sleep while it continued. I realized the crying was coming from the block at the back of this block about 50 meters away; it went on and on. Couldn’t the parents hear the child’s distress?
This one's great for your back
Except that it knackered mine!
The whole neighbourhood could but I bet I was the only one it disturbed. Eventually it ceased only to start again and shatter my precious sleep. Oh why was I such a poor sleeper and hear everything? I tossed and turned, desperately trying to block out the sound but not until it ceased after a good while did I return to my much needed slumber.
I awoke in the morning feeling like a wreck; only a hot shower could somewhat restore me.
08.10, First class of the day and I’m not feeling good.
The class were writing for me - ‘The Olympic Games and my favourite competitor.’ I noticed a boy sitting at the back with his leg resting on a stool. I didn’t recognize the boy and approached him. I then spotted a plaster cast on his leg. “What have you been doing?” I enquired. The boy next to him answered. “He’s from Sichuan.” I was taken aback and then noticed scarring on his face. Sichuan used to be known only for its spicy food but now will be forever known for the disaster. I smiled at him and asked awkwardly “Are you okay?” I didn’t
know what else to say. He half smiled in reply, maybe he didn’t even understand.
Later a student told me that thirty-one of his class mates had died in the earthquake and ten were disabled. He was one of the lucky ones. One can only imagine the thoughts that must occupy his mind. Crystal had told me only the day before that Michael her son had donated 2000 RMB of his savings, around 140 pounds to the earthquake disaster fund. That is an awful lot of money for a ten year old boy to give, especially when you consider what that can buy here.
September 3, 2008
Last night was our first night at the new apartment but it wasn’t intended to be. Originally I had planned to stay at the school apartment because of an 08.10 start this morning but I had developed a bad back yesterday morning and needed to take an anti-inflammatory tablet to calm it down. It’s the stupid way some bad backs kick off. I had lingered a long time in bed this morning, recovering from my horrible cold. I must have been sitting to long. Anyway, I was getting ready for
Corridor in the massage house
This is a beautifully built establishment with a lovely coffee house attached. Build and owned by a Taiwanese.
work when I happened to bend down to get a toilet roll from the bottom of the clothes store in our bedroom and it happened! I felt a nasty twinge in my lower spine and I knew straight away it was not good. I straightened up slowly and carefully, and although not in great pain, knew it would probably would get worse. So after school and suffering some noodles to eat, I went to our new place to meet Crystal and get some anti-inflammatory tablets. I was wretched tired after recovering from a rotten cold which seemed to knock me right out, and now suffering an uncomfortable back; so I was not in good form. After a sleep on the sofa, I felt a little better. Crystal went out to run her evening adult’s class and I contented myself with sitting at the computer to write emails and work on my website. My plan being to go back to the school apartment when Crystal returned. The school apartment being five minutes walk from school, whereas our apartment a thirty minute bus ride and a ten minute walk. However, the weather quickly changed those plans.
Around eight, an electrical
storm gathered itself above the city and gave us its full force. I have experienced lightening/thunder directly overhead on a couple of occasions before but this was by far the worst I’ve ever experienced. It was quite amazing and sometimes quite alarming. When there are storms here, they are certainly good ones. Some the almighty bangs right overhead frightened the ducks out of me! I was making great progress with the front page of my web site, which had needed improving when BANG! An almighty strike put out all the lights and my computer. I was stunned. I’d lost all my evening’s work, having not saved it during the course of my progress. Crystal had just arrived in, her skirt and legs soaked (she had an umbrella). Then I realized that I should not have been working on the computer at all during an electrical storm. A client of mine once told me that his whole computer had blown when lightning sent a power surge down the lines and into his P.C. I now wait to find out if the power has been restored and if our P.C. is okay.
I slept the night at the apartment on the
Just Crystal and a load of coppers!
A rare sight to see empty streets in Zunyi - the day the torch came.
sofa. Not because of any rift between me and Crystal but the only other useable bed was a single one. We have a double bed but apparently during removal, some of the screws went missing and so the bed could not be assembled. And anyway, maybe it was just as well that we were not sharing the same bed because of the amount of times I was awoken in the night by the sound of blaring car horns. I’m sure I would have been grunting, tossing and turning. Our new apartment, which is large, modern and very well appointed is some way from the main road but is very close to a very narrow steep access road which curves tightly on a steep hill. The consequence being that the drivers who use this, seem to feel the need to sound their horn for almost its entire length, lest something be coming the other way. I don’t know how many times I was awoken because of this. Crystal however, who rarely hears anything at night, was sleeping in the back room, and slept like a log!
Update: The lightening strike only knocked out the apartment fuses and were easily reset.
If any damage had of been done, especially to the computer, I would have sworn this to be a very ill omen for our stay at our new apartment.
5th September 5, 2008
I decided to go back to the apartment yesterday evening to spend a few hours with Crystal, have a shower and relax. Crystal was busy hanging curtains which she had washed. When I arrived at our front door, I was faced with actually getting into the apartment, a task I hadn’t previously had to do. The steel door has a complex arrangement of locks to foil all but the most persistent of wood be intruders. There are two locks operated by the same key but there is also a sliding plate which covers both locks and must be pulled to one side to gain access. But in order to do this, a rotary knob must be turned to the correct position, a bit like a dial on a safe.
I had already knocked on the door but got no response and thinking Crystal might be at the supermarket, tried to gain access. So I turned the dial to the place I thought it should
Don't know who!
But a happy guy.
be, then tried to slide the plate, so I could unlock the door but whatever position I turned the dial, I could not budge the plate. Exasperated, I banged loudly on the door and fortunately Crystal was in. I grumbled to her about the lock. I was hot and tired, and in no mood for temperamental doors. I demanded that she show me how to unlock the door now, in perhaps less than pleasing tone. So she put on her shoes and closed the door behind her, only to find that she too could not open the door. We were locked out!! Crystal then using my phone, called her sister and finally after much turning of the dial, was able to slide the plate and unlock the door.
Once inside, I said I would take a shower but the water was not hot and so I had wait. Crystal continued with her curtain hanging. Eventually the water was hot and I could then tackle the shower. I had been looking forward to this shower, not just because I was hot and sticky but also because it is a great shower with attitude. It is a corner unit with two
Michael and Cindy in inflatable on pond
Michael is Crystal's son and Cindy is her sister's daughter.
sliding curved glass doors and inside has water jets which come at you from all directions, as well as a flexible hose which hangs on a clip. So I stripped off, opened the door and a little uncertain what to do next, turned one of the two dials. Suddenly a great force of cold water shot from the flexible hose and nozzle which then dropped to the floor, sending a great spout of cold water over my body. I yelled and jumped out, closing the doors behind me because the water was shooting out of the doors. This shower was out to get me. There was only one thing to do, open the doors again and face the torrent of water now forcing itself against the doors. This shower was going to have to be tamed. Rapidly I opened the door reached inside and cursed loudly upon receiving a cold soaking. I grabbed the nozzle and placed it firmly in place. I then turned the dial to get some lovely hot water over my body, then played with the dials to experiment with the functions of the shower. It is truly a power shower because the water jets from the
side nearly took the skin off me and the one that you can sit on - well!! I won’t explain that one! This is a shower to truly spend some time in and such is the volume of water that gushes over you, one could easily drain a small lake in the process of indulging oneself.
Refreshed and renewed, I came out having washed parts I never thought could be washed.
Crystal told me that her brother-in-law had fetched some screws and now the main bed was assembled, so I went to inspect it only to find that although the mattress looks on the surface to be a very nice mattress, it is actually as hard as a board. I have slept on some firm beds during my time in China but this takes the prize for the hardest. I banged it and yes underneath it was a board. I’m afraid it was time for more grumbling and even Crystal admits it might be too hard for her. We would have to buy another mattress. I decide that it might be best if I return to the school apartment where the king size bed is firm, comfortable and
not hard, and anyway I have lessons at 08.10.
The bus trip back turns out to be an amusing one. As I’ve already mentioned, here on the roads, no one gives way to anyone and of course buses are no exception. I am traveling on No.3 when we come to a stop where a bus has already pulled in, so our driver just pulls across his path to stop and consequently blocks his route out. At which the other driver blares his air horns in response. This bus turns out to also be a No.3 but this is one of the few new ones on the road; our bus is one of the falling to bits, stuck together with gaffer tape type. So our bus pulls out and in hot pursuit is new No.3, who when we stop at the next stop, pulls along side for the driver and his assistant to shout their feelings at the driver of our bus, old No.3. In response our driver gives as good as he gets. Now it is the turn to new No.3, which is bright yellow, to pull across our path and prevent us from progressing. Our driver sounds his
Linda pouring tea
Linda runs tea house with her husband
rather pathetic horn compared to the air horns of the other and flashes his lights. He manages to squeeze past and race away, high revs, a pace of which only this type of buses can race - slowly. It then becomes a case of each trying to pass the other before the next stop but being new, new No.3 has the edge and is able to get the advantage and by the time I jump off, has got a few lengths ahead. It made the ride entertaining, if nothing else. Bus drivers are as crazy as taxi drivers and have no regard for anyone. I think this sort of behaviour makes their job more bearable. When I was waiting for a bus the other day, I watched incredulously as a bus eager to get past another at a set of lights, overtook on the left on the wrong side of the road, a car signaling to turn left. The car hapless car was passed on both side at the same time by these racing buses. The thing is that they gain so little by these antics except maybe to pinch a few customers more at the next stop and until
Linda with Amanda, Josie and Ann - Crystal's English students
passed again. I don’t know whether the driver and his assistant get a commission on what money they take but they are always keen to stop to pick up any passengers.
Bus travel in Zunyi is very cheap, one yuan for each trip and half that for children. There are no tickets given; you simply drop your note or coin in a box with a slot on top and a glass side which sits in front of the assistant. If you need change, you ask the assistant.
Sunday 14th September
A walk in the country. This weekend is Mid-Autumn festival, when everyone eats Moon Cakes. Or at least everyone buys them but not so many want to eat them. We have two days off and decide to go for a walk. It is a warm and pleasent day. All along the side of the road are biege/orange carpets of drying sweetcorn and piles of sweetcorn and pumpkins. Our walk takes us to a delightful slow running river amidst low green mountains, where water buffalo are tethered to graze but the area where people come to picnic and relax is spoiled by so much litter. Why is it
Linda and Grace
Linda and Grace are both Crystal's English students.
they come to enjoy the countryside and yet can spoil it by leaving so much rubbish behind? City folk!!
We stop to rest, eat some snacks and paddle in the river to cool our feet. Everywhere there are bright dragonflies darting here and there. Nearby a girl peacefully fishes while her family are toiling hard in the rice field. They are thrashing bundles of rice into a large container to release the rice seeds and the sound makes a heavy thudding noise in the stillness of the day; it is arduous work. We follow the river on a dusty track and pass a Mah-jong house brightly adorned with colourful flags. Our path takes us past farm houses and people whose labour never seems to cease. In the UK these houses would be idylic country retreats but not here.
We could have followed the river for many kilometres but my legs tell me it is time to turn back and we follow the road; an easier trek. We cross a wide section with large stepping stones set in a straight line. On the second stone is a woman washing clothes in the river and we have to step over
Tea House display
The Chinese developed the tea ceremony long before the Japanese.
clothes and mobile phone lying on the rock to pass. They have electricity in the village nearby and she probably could have a washing machine and maybe has. Maybe if she had a choice of washing machine or mobile phone, the latter would seem more necessary?
It is so lovely to get away from the noises of the city and hopefully we can return here soon.
Taking Your Bird For A Walk
I have a day off today, Crystal is filling in for me; it's a handy arrangement. Since I have come back, I have doubled my hours; teaching both Senior One and Senior Two oral English but now I have 26 classes and that's a lot, especially when I have to help with our weekend classes too. However, Crystal now goes to school instead of me one day a week and the boy (and girl) students have someone pretty to teach them!
I've been working a lot on my website but needed to stretch my legs also today. I head for the coolness of the mountain forest and soon come across a perculiar passtime in these parts - taking your bird for a
We moved into our new apartment when I returned after my summer holiday.
walk. No, this has nothing to do with taking your girlfriend into the forest!!! But actually taking your bird, caged bird into the forest. Many people here like to keep caged birds and will bring then into the mountains to meet or at least talk to other birds. It seems to be mainly men who do this. They bring their birds in small wooden cages and hang them in the trees, while they go off and chat with other men or play mah-jong. The birds get some fresh air and sing to other birds in the vacinity. It seems a very humane act on behalf of their owners.
I love walking in these mountains. There is a maze of stone, concrete and natural paths that thread their way across, up and down the slopes. I am always amazed at the human effort that must have been undertaken to build all these paths on such steep slopes; there are so many and I'm always coming across paths and steps I have not travelled before. Today I came across several mah-jong houses in the forest I had not found before. They are buzzing with chatter and the sound of mah-jong tablets
being shuffled. It is only a pity they don't cater for western tastes, like beer and ice-cream but then maybe I am the only westerner who wanders these hills.
I also came across again today, the giant teapot which stands somewhat neglected on the slopes. It must be at least eight metres high and maybe once was a colourfully extravagent tea house but now seems unused and a little forlorn.
Oh, I was so hot. I've just had a great shower in our wonderful multi-directional power shower - better now. I've also had a cup of English tea, made in my own China tea-pot; the Yorkshire tea I brought from the UK also.
These mountains which surround the city are not only places to walk but to also exercise, socialize and relax. Many people come here early in the morning to practice such things as Tai chi, some even bring their saxophones and the like to practice here; it is quite bizaare to hear them. On the lower slopes amidst the trees, people sit on blue plastic chairs, take tea (Chinese tea), play cards and chat. The air is filled with the sound of crickets everywhere here,
especially in the forest and the sound sometimes is quite extreme, like miniature chainsaws.
Thursday 18th September
They've been preparing for a festival to celebrate one of the major products - alcohol and a big stage has been erected in front of City Hall, as well as endless advertising for the local brews all around. Thinking it was starting this evening, we went to have a look but it was not; apparently starting tomorrow. But when we got there, it seemed it was an invitation only event. Outside the entrance were two flanks of pretty girls dressed in red and gold traditional dresses and it was there job to bow and greet the guests. We stand for a while watching the folk go in, wandering what to do next when a man comes up to Crystal and gives her an pass and a very smart invitation. When he is gone, she tells me it was an old colleague of hers. Apparently he had no one to go in with, so he gave it to us.
We enter with a group of guests and are greeted by the girls as we pass. All around are Policemen or
security guards; it is difficult to tell the difference. It is a long pathway to the event and at intervals along the path are more young ladies in the same red and gold dresses and as we get near the event, we are escorted to where it is all happening.
I'm feeling a little awkward now, uncertain as to whether at any moment we will be found as not invited guests and thrown out. In front of the lavish open air stage are tables and chairs with seated guests; we make our way to some plastic seats on the periphery but are soon accosted by one of the many officials and are taken to a table near the stage. Oh well, so far so good.
Crystal tells me that the event has been organised by the CEO of the liquor company that invited us to his factory last year and soon I see him greeting and talking to guests. I feel very under dressed for the occasion and still uncertain about being there. I don't exactly merge into the crowd, being the only westerner. We are soon joined by three army officers in their smart but casual green
uniforms (dark green trousers and light green shirts; no tie). Soon one of them engages us in conversation. He proudly points out he is of the People's Liberation Army. I am offered a cigarette and accept, even though I don't smoke cigarettes. Thought it would be a friendly gesture.
Lengthy speeches commence including one by the CEO of the liquor company. These are followed by he and some important folk pouring the liquor made by the company over the top of two very large pyramids of champagne glasses, which then cascaded down and filled each glass in the pyramid.
The entertainment follows with a professional duet singing a western classical song, accompanied by dry ice and bubbles. Various musicians, singers and dance acts follow; no expense has been spared. The grand buffet commences and I join the queue. Might as well make the most of it but for once the food is not to my taste.
All of a sudden the officers quickly take their leave. Maybe there is a war to fight or a general to take home? Before they leave however, the soldiers toast us with the clear liquor (rice wine spirit) now flowing freely.
I accept, even though I don't like the damn stuff, having got seriously drunk and ill on it before Christmas. I'm glad they have left, so I won't have to drink anymore. It is impossible to try and refuse a drink here, as was my experience before Xmas. The toast is gan bei, meaning 'down in one'.
Later in the evening, the CEO comes to us followed by a guy who looks like a body guard and who is clutching a half empty bottle of his hooch. He welcomes us warmly in half cut English, having toasted many people that evening. I happily praise his event in return. He obviously does not know or care that we were not invited, and is glad to see us. We first met him at a classical guitar evening; he is a very good classical guitarist. He orders that our glasses be recharged but Crystal whispers to his aide and I only get a drop, which I am more than pleased about. The CEO toasts us 'gam bei', downs his glass and is on his way.
It has been quite an unexpected evening and I feel a warm glow, assisted by the
rice wine spirit, as we depart.
There is one thing that is quite obvious after you spend a little time in China - the Chinese know how to put on a show; as was quite apparent by the Olympic games, especially the opening ceremony. They go to quite extroadinary lengths to advertise products and often put on shows with dancers and singers just for the purpose. This was one such occasion and no expense was spared to entice the people into drinking their brand of alcohol. Mind you, this was no a cheap run-of-the-mill brand of alcohol; costing around twenty-five pounds a bottle here in China and for many, that's a week's salary. But no matter how expensive it is, I still don't like it.
Saturday 20th September
There has been an aspect of Chinese life I've been meaning to write about for a while. It is about how life flourishes on the street at night. Chinese cities are not like English cities which basically close down at night because here it seems the city never sleeps. Most shop keepers here do not make a good living but adaquate and in order for them to do this, they
must be open from early morning to late at night. Therefore the shop becomes there home and in fact is because many sleep in a room at the back, family and all. In the evening, the shop keepers sit outside at improvised tables and play cards or mah-jong, drink beer with friends and neighbours. The children play on the pavement close by. Some relax on old armchairs, others eat food. It seems that all life, at least local, gathers here. Some shopkeepers however, sit in their shops with their family gathered around a small TV. If customers come that is fine, if they don't that is also fine. They don't appear to get days off; their world revolves around their shop and making sufficient money to feed the family and save. It is relentless and never ending but somehow it all seems so very fine; at least looking in from the outside.
Sunday 21st September
I was feeling a little down yesterday. It gets to you sometimes being so far from home. I was walking to our old apartment where Crystal was running a class and passing the new shopping mall at the end of the street. Beneath the
mall they are building a Walmart and there are steps and esclator going down to it, still uncompleted. Outside was a huge pile of grey gravel which a team of porters were carrying down in their back baskets. I noticed one of the group, a girl who must have been around twenty, it is difficult to say because these people look younger than they are when young and older than they are when old. But she was certainly no older than twenty and quite a pretty girl too. She was filling her basket to the full and then from a raised platform, lifting it to her back. I began to wonder if this type of labour would fill her entire life? If she married one of her male fellow workers, she would have a child and then as soon as possible return to the building site.
Maybe China's economic growth might in time improve her lot but then maybe not. Seeing her encouraged me to not to feel so sorry for myself but then it seems all life and consquent happiness is based around expectations. If she expects little, she will not be disappointed and so more content and
happy. I will never know because I shall never walk in her shoes. My expectations are set, I cannot change them, only alter them a little. I have to strive to meet them and not get down when they don't happen as quick as I would like. At least that is how it seems.
Tuesday 23rd September
Crystal and I went for another massage this evening. We've been going every week to a small place right below the block where her sister lives. It is run by a young husband and wife and it is very cheap 200 yuan for 12 sessions. A little over 1.50 (English) a session for over an hour. It is one of those things you just couldn't afford to do in UK, not every week. I get a right good pummeling but I'm in need of it; so many tight muscles that have been too tight for too many years. The man has got really strong hands but it seems everyone is stronger in China.
It is sweltering here, over 30c every day; so sticky I'm needing three showers a day. Crazy man played badminton at midday with some of the students. No
wonder he almost fell asleep on the massage table.
Been watching a few movies lately; we can buy them so cheaply. They're all copies but good quality. 'No Country For Old Men.' Not a bad film but not a good one either in my view; too much psychopathic violence for my liking. 'There Will Be Blood.' Set in the times when oil was being discovered in the US at the start of the twentieth century. Starts slowly but excellent film. Basically film is about how greed can overcome a man. Not a happy ending. 'Juno' An enjoyable film depicting a 16 year girl called Juno in modern day America who gets pregnant. Light, entertaining, funny and no one gets killed! Well worth watching I think.
1st October - National Holiday
National holiday extends over the whole week, except that for most people and students if they have the week off, they have to work at the weekends. Anyway it is great to have the week off.
Today we went for a walk to the same area in the countryside as before but after picnicing by the river as before, we headed off in the opposite direction.
It is harvest time for the rice and there is no holiday for the people in the countryside. Most are out in the fields, harvesting the rice crops by hand and every so often you hear the soft thud thud as the workers thrash the sheeves into a large wooden trough to free the rice grains from the stalks. And once the grain is gathered, it is time to start digging the field the field; the dark heavy soil. There are men and women hand digging large fields and new crops already being planted; not a modern machine in sight.
The road we take climbs slowly between low mountains and tiered rice fields. Now instead of sweetcorn being dried in courtyards and along the side of the road, it is grain that is spread out and constantly raked to turn and dry it. It is relentless unending work but as Crystal says, they will have more rest in the winter. At least they have family, friends and community, and mahjong!
I am walking in new walking shoes; not a good idea. One of them is pinching my little toe badly and it's painful walking down hill; I end
up taking them off and walking barefoot and not even the country people do that! If my shoes had not been so tight and I had had good footware, we may have been walking still. Who knows where the road would lead? It was such a calm cool day and so peaceful.
Friday 10th October
A day off today, Crystal is taking my classes. Decided in the afternoon to don my walking boots and go into the mountains. It is great because within ten minutes of leaving the apartment I am on the lower reaches of the mountains.
One has three choices when going there. You can either take the small concrete road that lazily winds its way up and over, and to the pogoda on top; or you can take one of the many sets of stone steps that wend their way this and that; or you can take one of the fewer tracks which tend to be quite steep and hard going. I must have had lots of energy today because I decided to take one of the latter. A more direct route to the top I thought but I was wrong. Its destination was no
more that the flattened surface of a peak. Here the surface was like many places on the mountain, flattened delerately for the purpose of excercise but I've rarely seen people performing their Tai Chi or whatever at such places; I probably get up too late to see them. They come early in the morning when it is cool and then evaporate into the heat of the day. The ground is dark red sandy soil and clear of any obstructions. I look around and the only way to go is to take one of the several routes back down. My cast my gaze upwards there is the pogoda much higher on another hill, bathed in perma-mist.
Going down on such tracks is much harder and I am grabbing on to small trees in case I should slip. Further down I spy a crudely stone built hut covered in white plastic sheeting and become a little anxious. This was not just a shelter, should anyone get caught in a storm, this was someone's dwelling. Who would live in such a place? I am glad when I am well past it. I have come to feel very safe in these mountains but
who knows who might live in such a desperate isolated place?
Another good factor of walking in these hills; although you can wander for hours up and down, it is easy to find your way out; just go down and eventually you will come to the street. It's not long before I am walking on concrete again and heading back. However, my boots, socks and bottoms of my trousers are covered in small burs from some grass I have brushed past. I have to sit and pick them out.
At the T junction by the river, there has been a car accident but more like a car tiff because I cannot see any damage on either of the taxi (it had to be a taxi) or the car but the point on commenting about this, is that whenever Chinese drivers have an accident, no matter how slight they stop their vehicles and not move them until the police or someone else important tells them. This means that the road can easily become blocked over nothing and this was the case today. As usual chaos ensues, with the blaring of horns and inpatient manoeuverings. It gets crazy at times
like this and the entire end of the city can become congested because of a minor accident, which most of them are. Last week on the bus I was witness to some totally bazaar behaviour by drivers; which actually is quite normal. We are on a two lane road and for some reason, a small mini bus has stopped at the side. Now this would not be a problem if drivers gave way to each other but they don't here. So we are waiting to get past when other vehicles behind us decided they won't wait and will pass us with traffic coming in the opposite direction. What is worse they blare their horns to say "I'm coming through, get out of the way." But how do you get out of the way when there is nowhere to go? No one can go back or forward and everything comes to a halt. I sit and wait, half amused and half perplexed at their stupidy. Should I get off or wait? I decide to wait and amazingly, I don't know how but we get through. Probably because the bus was bigger than the car trying to get through. I don't know
if I'll ever get used to such antics. It is laughable but also so pathetic. In ten years time when China has so many more cars, they will have to something orderly or the whole city will grind to a halt.
Back at the apartment, I shower to get rid of the perspiration and then prepare tea but not normal tea; instead green (actually this one is called white tea) tea made in the way of the Chinese tea ceremony. One of Crystal's adult students owns a tea shop and gave us a special tea tray, teapot, jug and cups - see pic. This is a wonderful way to drink tea; so leisurely and enjoyable; also so civilised. Pity the Chinese can't be as civilised in other matters!
Saturday 18th October 5.15 a.m. !!!!!!!!!!!
Last Saturday (time is flying) we went to Crystal's sisters new apartment; it was their grandfather's birthday party, the second this year, he is 98yrs old. (I think he had forgotten about the first one) He lives in a hospital now and needs 24 hour care, which the family give. They fetched him in a wheelchair but her sister lives on the eighth
floor and there is no lift! They have a hired help and he and Crystal’s uncle, who is a saint, hauled the old fella up all seven floors in his wheelchair, plus some more. In China the ground floor is the first. I counted over 150 steps - phew! Crystal’s sister and family live on the top floor and share it with one other family, who are also their friends. They also have a very large connecting roof garden. This is common for the top floor to have a roof garden. When I was first here, we were invited to visit this musician at his top floor apartment. He had a very nice roof garden with a bathroom on the roof too. It must be great to have a bath in the lovely weather and then slip outside in the all-together! It was very private. However, sister-in-law’s apartment is overlooked by one much higher, so no sun bathing for an all over tan here! Not that Chinese would do that, they are far too modest and anyway they don't like the sun and keep out of it. When it's really hot here, there is hardly a soul in the park.
The apartment blocks in this part of the city are really crammed together. Folk here live cheek by jowl!
Sister-in-laws apartment is bigger than ours (her old one) but in my opinion, apart from the roof garden, is not as nice. However, they can always decorate it and they do live next door to their best friends but bugger if I'd want to carry the shopping up all those stairs. They have purchased a new upright piano for their daughter Cindy, who's 9. I can imagine the struggle it must been for the porters to bring it up all those wretched stairs. The bends in the stairwell are cramped; they had enough trouble getting grandfather up.
Was talking to my students in one class about media and newspaper stories. I asked them to write about a story they had read about. One of them came up with the story that government officials have told the people how they can avoid road accidents - OBEY THE RULES!! I laughed so much because no one obeys the rules on the road, in fact there are no rules, it is just a free for all.
I haven't mentioned the room
lighting we have in the living room, it's really cool. By the door there are nine light switches and correspondingly nine sets of lights in the room. On the ceiling are 15 small glass squares, forming one light unit; each one being a light. I discovered the other day that not only can they be blue as well as white light but they also automatically change colour in a sequence of seven colours. This is quite novel at first but gets a little irritating after a while. In the bedroom too, the ceiling light can be white light or blue light.
There are some little things that I see or hear which I forget about then recall later on. The other morning at 6 a.m. I am at the school apartment, having as I usually do, awoken too early. I can hear this unified shouting coming from outside, like a group of soldiers calling out numbers in time. Surely it can't be the students at the school, I think to myself, it is too early even for them and there is no military base nearby. I know that often they, the students, are regimented like soldiers but... Having to
find out, I asked one of the students if it was them. It was not, it was more than likely hotel staff, receiving their early morning training and motivation. I know this sounds bizaare but I have often seen them trotting down the street, in close formation like a small military group, dressed in their hotel uniforms and calling out something together as they go. It is amusing to see smartly suited girls (and guys) jogging slowly in shoes definitely not designed for the purpose.
Motorbikes: Motorbikes in China are not like motorbikes in the U.K.. They are not in general things of pleasure and beauty; big throaty power machines - big boys toys! In China they are work horses, small in size and engine capacity. They are taxis and goods vehicles, and sometimes both. It is not uncommon to see four up on a motorbike and its not uncommon to see a huge load strapped behind the rider but the weirdest load I've seen so far was a huge leaf spring from a truck. I had been the street with Crystal and had watched these men on the street assebling it. Then a man pulled up on his
motorcycle and with the help of another, they are extremely heavy, liften onto the back of his bike; the small baggage rack at the back and then secured it. Now this thing must have been about four feet long and as I said, very heavy but in no time at all he had secured it and was on his way, with it sticking out a good distance on each side of the bike. How it was going to stay on I will never know. Surely any lean of the bike will cause it to slide off? But I will never know if he made it. What I do know is that he had a shaky start as he set off.
Having been a bike rider; not at the moment 😞 , I am always amazed at the loads carried on these little motorcycles but perhaps the most amusing thing is when it rains. Many of the motorcycle taxis, erect a rectangular umbrella to protect them and the passenger(s) from the worst of the rain. I've yet to go on one and am not particularly keen, having seen their riding antics on the street and the footpath. It's not that
they are fast but that the riders are fearless (or blind) and I'm not!
There is a large river that ambles through the middle of the city and is a great place to beside both by day and by night, when the banks and bridges are illuminated but there is not much life upon it unfortunately, although there can be some activity in it from time to time. Early morning, there are the hardy swimmers who swim back and forth across its width and in the hot weather there can be small groups of young carefree naked boys who play happily at its edges. There are the dog walkers who throw sticks for their dogs, often Golden Retrievers, who love to plunge into the water after them. As for on the water, there is only one boat, that of the man who fishes up any rubbish with a net on a long pole. However, from time to time there is the strange sight of mainly ladies pole rowing. This sounds a little bizarre but it is a tradition that goes back a long while. They use very long bamboo poles, maybe 15' long which they stand upon, yes stand
Stage at liquor party
The party was organised and paid for by a local company which makes one of the local expensive alcohols.
up and with another pole in their hands, propel themselves slowly through the water. It must take great skill to keep their balance but I've never really been around long enough to see if they fall off them and into the water. Generally they are putting their poles away when I pass in the morning. On one of the huts is a very large faded picture of a lot of these ladies, all wearing the same colour green costume, involved in some sort of regatta but Crystal tells me it no longer happens - pity. The river is not very deep and during the hot dry summer can nearly dry out. You can see a picture of occasion and some people taking advantage of this to pick some shell fish from the rocks. However, at various stages along its length through the city are weirs, which are really just damns allowing the water to flow over the tops in a controlled fashion. Once upon a time the river was far more interesting, with rocks and white water but now it flows sedately, except for over the weirs. I had thought that the round shaped weirs were made of concrete but
the other day when walking with Crystal I took a closer look and saw that they are actually made of rubber. Basically the weir is no more than a very large heavyweight rubber tube. Which is quite something, when you consider the amount of water it keeps back. Don't know if it is filled with anything but I guess it would have to be - clever these Chinese.
Saturday 1st November
I've been in China a year now - my how times flies! When I arrived in Zunyi I thought it was never going to rain; it was Autumn and every day for months was just dull, grey and dry. One year on and it seems that every day is grey, dull and wet! But there was one day last week when the sun did shine; I sent one of my classes outside because it was such a fine day, too good to be in the classroom. I asked them to write an imaginary letter to their best friend while outside and to my surprise all but one of them did, despite the opportunity to chat much more between themselves. Since then however and for the previous week, it
has rained virtually non stop. I've never experienced so much rain. This must be the monsoon season but at least the rain is not torrential and it does clean the street of spit! So it's not all bad.
Wednesday 5th November
It's been a good day today. Firstly I was off because the kids are doing mid term exams and will be doing them for three days, so that means three days off for me - hurray! At home in UK, the kids get mid term holiday and here they get mid term exams! Secondly I had a massage from the massage lady we go to see. She and her husband both run a massage place but she is better than him. Previously, I've had the guy until last time when she came over to massage a problem area in my shoulder and he went over to massage Crystal. It was then Crystal realised she had been getting the better massage. Anyway, this time I went alone and got a massage from her. She also used suction cups on my shoulder blade but I don't know if they did any good. Sometimes you see people on the street who
Performers on stage
Note the glass liquor pyramid
use suctions cups on people who are willing to take their shirt off for treatment. There are a lot of street doctors and 'healers' around, especially at the area by the river, where all sort of things are sold, including snake potions and the like.
After the massage, Crystal came and we went to the only Pizza place in the city. I'm not normally a fan of pizza but I wanted to try it, it would be a change and boy was it was good! In fact it was much better than the last one I had in the UK. What was more, it was worth going just for the onion rings. I ordered them out of curiosity, knowing the ones I've tasted in the UK are not up to much but these were brilliant. Huge crispy rings, even Crystal liked them. She didn't go much for the pizza but she did eat the crust and some of the meat and I managed to eat all the nine inch pizza.
Monday 17th November
A few days since I have written, largely because I suspect no one will ever read this except me. Anyway, quite a few things have
happened. A week last Saturday, we went to one of Crystal's couin's wedding, where many family members gather to eat a meal and give the bride and groom money. It was the same room as the previous wedding meal we attended and there were many many people, far too many for one wedding I thought and I was right. There were actually two wedding meals taking place at the same time. The couples did not know each other, just that it is cheaper to share the banquet hall costs. I was asked to say some to wish to couple well and which no one except Crystal understood. We sat opposite her parents during the meal but they still will no acknowledge me.
We also had a meal out with LInda, the one that runs the tea shop, who is one of Crystal's adult students, and her friends. We ate hotpot outside the busy restaurant on the pavement. Which wasn't as bad as it sounds.
I'm pissed off about my other blog, my tea blog on the Blogger network because the damn Chinese authorities have blocked the network for some reason and now i can't get acc
Advertising re liquor festival
They erected a great big stage but despite several attempts to see some performance, there was never anything going on.
We had a power cut, the second in two days. I was told that last year the authorities cut the power to certain areas to save power. I don't know how true that is but it would not surprise me.
Well it seems, one knows what will happen next. Crystal contacted me on my way home yesterday to say a friend, who is the father of one of her students, had invited us out for dinner. As soon as Crystal got in from visiting Walmart, we got ready and went out. She said he was waiting for us in street. He was waiting for us, in a policecar. This man is a lawyer and was previously a judge and it turned out he had borrowed the car from one of his friends to collect us. I had often suspected that many of the policecars around, of which there are many, are little more than personal vehicles for police officers and their friends. Often you see them parked up outside apartment blocks for days and some of the cars and four wheel drives are quality motors, I've seen a Lexus police car and similar. Inside this car there
was no police radio, only a stereo.
It is a short drive to the newly opened classy restaurant and waiting for us are six men, all ready to eat but they have waited for us. They are cool in their welcome, well actually non existent. Our host however, is a warm and friendly man. He asks if I would like alcohol and I say a beer but the others say I must drink wine, Moutai wine, which is not wine at all but strong liquer which I can't stand. I've mentioned this before. The meal is hotpot but not too spicy hot and the meal is good.
I am curious to know who is at the table with us. It turns out that one is the head judge of the district, a couple are in the construction business, a couple are cops (probably where the police car came from) and a couple looked like gangsters. I know that is seven but maybe the cops looked like gangsters!
As is custom, toasts are offered to each other individually, often with comical insults and one is expected to return the toast later, which I do but with the comical
New and old
The illuminated sign is a decibel counter. It went up to 70 as a tractor passed.
insults. Each time, I take the smallest of sips. All I say is "cheers". Only two of the men don't toast me - they are the gangsters - haha!
Eventually I get my beer. One of the men pays at the end and I see the woman taking the money count 900 rmb, thats about 90 pounds at todays exchange rate. That's an expensive meal, normally it would be around 200-300 for the same amount of people eating but we were also drinking expensive Moutai.
Afterwards we are taken back by our host in the policecar. I wonder what would happen if a serious incident occurred infront of our eyes and we were forced to stop by someone needing help? I guess our friend would call a policeman!
Saturday 13th December Wedding, karaoke and Mr Bean
Quite a lot has happened since I last wrote. We went to a wedding of John an American teacher and his Chinese wife at the local Catholic church. John is in his sixties and Li Ping is in her early forties. The service was conducted in Chinese. There were many of John's students in church and a sprinkling of westerners.
Libray of the 'Normal' College
Don't know why they call it Normal.
We had difficulty finding the church which was hidden down a back street. Initially we found a church complete with cross on the apex but were turned back by security guards. Apparently the church was taken over by the communists during the revolution and never returned. Now it is part of the musuem. After the service we learned that one of the Americans had had her purse stolen in church. Later the purse was discovered with all the contents, including her passport, except for the money. It seems opportunists will go anywhere.
We also learnt that John, while out jogging, had come across a new born baby in the street. He took it to a local hospital but sadly the girl did not survive. Like likes to run early every morning.
We have also been to Beth's birthday party. Beth is an American teacher, she is here with her Australian partner and they teach in a private school. They had hired a karaoke room at a karaoke club. It is common to hire a private room for such occassions. Almost from the outset the karaoke machine and large video screen was in action, with the Chinese guests up
Three Pogoda Park
Named because it has three pogodas.
and singing. Chinese people love to sing and don't need to get drunk in order to do so. It was however extremely loud and there was a horrible echo to it. It was painful to my ears. We left around ten and were both glad to leave the noise behind us.
Yesterday was my last day at school for the year. I finish much earlier than the other teachers and students. This is because next week the students begin two weeks of study for their winter exams and after than they have two further weeks of exams. They finish in January and so I get a nice long winter break. I have been showing the kids Mr Bean all week. I had six of the series on DVD to show and must have viewed over thirty episodes of the same throughout the week. Strangely I did not tire of him, especially the scene at the swimming pool with the high diving board, and the one where he makes the sandwich on the park bench with the cup of tea in the hotwater bottle. It was also wonderful to watch the children in hysterics of laughter. One boy said to
The chain link bridge leading to the park
It's really weird walking across because it bounces up and down.
me, Mr Bean is much better than Chinese humour.
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